Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The End of Time

A free-associative epic, The End of Time allows Peter Mettler to fulfill his apparent ambition to make a film that is simultaneously about nothing and everything. This is harder than it sounds, and much more satisfying an experience than you would imagine. The trick is to reduce all reality to abstractions, at which point abstractions become real, and then the world turns into the acid-freak section of 2001: A Space Odyssey and you lunge towards the doors of perception only to realize they were painted on the wall all along. “What is time?” the film asks, and then answers, by showing five minutes of lava footage. “What is time?” the film asks of a physicist, who would love to answer, except that he has a call he really has to answer, can you hold on a minute? “What is time?” the film asks again, this time of the director’s mother. Oh, it’s mother’s day. Well, now I feel foolish for even asking in the first place.

Mettler’s skill as a cinematographer is well established at this point, but The End of Time offers ample evidence of his talent as a sculptor of sound and image. He mines a series of far-flung locales—Hawaiian volcanoes, Swiss scientific complex, holy sites in India, devastated Detroit slums—for strange and illuminating juxtapositions. Stars fall like snow and the metal circles of the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland are no less mystical than mandalas found at a Buddhist shrine in India. An Indian funeral procession provides the soundtrack to an army of ants pulling at the towering corpse of a grasshopper. The omnipresence of cellphones becomes a running gag, with the devices multiplying like little rodents devouring the now. Visual motifs disappear and resurface like whales breaching the surface of the ocean, while sounds form a thread stitching together images in unexpected ways. Something as innocuous as the tin-coated song of an ice cream truck can transform the sprawling ruins of Detroit in a single neighbourhood. Beyond its exploration of time, the film is a monument to the incidental.

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